This brings us up to, what, three NES games covered on this site now? And two of them are Japan-only? Seems about right for us. For screenshots, we've used the palette standard recommended by The Cutting Room Floor's Taking Screenshots page. The section on Vs. The Wings of Madoola though, due to not being currently dumped publicly, has some screenshots taken from the only direct-capture video of the game on YouTube embedded in the same section- that has to be a new low for us, right? Christ, next we'll be sreenshotting RealPlayer videos through an RF cable in black and white, somehow. This also probably wouldn't have been possible without rinno's The Wing of Madoola fansite for its excellent maps and information about the game and all related information, so please take a look. Finally, a shoutout must go to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, _sharc, for chatting with us on and off about Sunsoft games and providing a lot of leads and help with making this page possible. Ta, pal!
Sunsoft's output on the NES is a fascinating look at a developer getting their ducks in a row after a rocky start.
Can you believe that the same company who released the infamous Atlantis no Nazo would go on to make Gimmick!, one of the most lovingly-crafted games on the system?
Really though, the more astonishing thing is that right after Atlantis no Nazo, they released The Wing of Madoola.
To go into a little more detail, Sunsoft's first few releases on the Famicom were, well, rough. A trio of simple arcade ports in 1985- including the infamous Ikki (at least partly developed in-house with apparent involvement from Tose too according to GDRI) which has a reputation for being one of the most famous 'kusoge' or 'shit games', which you can read more about over at Bad Game Hall of Fame- were followed up in 1986 by their first Famicom Disk System adventure game Dead Zone (a genre shift that would bear great fruit a few years later with Ripple Island) but also the terrible Toukaidou Gojuusan Tsugi (have a look at GDRI again, Tose might be more to blame for that one) and Atlantis no Nazo. Ah, yes, a true king of kusoge, a beautiful mess of a game that combines a non-linear structure, weird The Tower of Druaga-esque secrets required to progress and jumping controls designed to infuriate. It's not good, but it is a fascinating study. Yet, later in 1986, Sunsoft would release Madūra no Tsubasa, translated on the title screen as The Wing of Madoola, today's subject- not a brilliant game, but a leap forward for the company and perhaps a sign that their output would only improve from here.
The Wing of Madoola is the story of Lucia, a warrior fighting for the land of Badam against the wicked Darutos who has stolen the kingdom's treasure, the titular Wing of Madoola statue, as well as Lucia's unnamed prince. Across 16 stages, Lucia must battle the forces of Darutos, bolstering her strength and magic skills as she does so, and bring peace back to the land! This takes the form of an action platformer with some very light role-playing game mechanics- as game designer Kenji Sada says, "I didn't intend to make an action RPG, but just an action game [but] a title sold well if it was called an RPG in those days, thanks to Dragon Quest". There's precedent for this kind of game, of course, in Namco's arcade game Dragon Buster from 1985 which incorporates very light character-building mechanics into a maze-like platformer (and indeed, Kenji Sada mentions that Sunsoft's effort has a lady protagonist because, "If the protagonist was a boy, Madoola was too similar to Dragon Buster, wasn't it?") but Madoola implements the concept of platformer plus role-playing in quite a different way (and, in fact, before Dragon Buster would make it in a modified form to the system) so I won't focus too much on comparing the games directly. Still, there'll be the odd comparison here and there (as well as a few to a surprising contemporary- Castlevania was released in Japan a few months beforehand!) so let's get into it.
Starting with what Lucia can do seems to be the best approach. When the game begins, all she's got is her sword and her guts... And her sword is pretty weak. The popcorn enemies on the first stage take at least six swings to defeat, that's how bad it is- most likely they'll get away from the stunlock and ram into you. Exploring the first stage- it's pretty simple, so you can't miss much- will give you Lucia's first upgrades, boots to improve her jumping height and walking speed, and a sword to make her strong enough to fell enemies in far less hits. Over the course of the game, exploring each stage thoroughly will yield more items to expand Lucia's abilities, eventually turning her into a super-fast, high-jumping magic-casting death machine. The combat itself is nothing too fancy, which is fine- Simon Belmont and other contemporaries only needed the one attack after all- but perhaps something like Clovis of Dragon Buster's downward stab and lunge would've been interesting to add. That said, there's a tiny amount of advanced tech in here, such as exploiting stunlock (when Lucia lands a hit on an enemy, she can attack again much faster than if she swings at air, so if an enemy gets stunned when hit you can mash the button to stunlock them quickly) but not really enough to add too much. The swordplay, such as it is, is serviceable, and if nothing else Lucia is a much more capable character than Atlantis no Nazo's Wynn, especially once she has a full set of Boots, allowing her to zip through stages and leap with a half-decent amount of control.
Lucia's magic is what gives the game a tiny bit of complexity and lets the game tack that 'with RPG elements' subgenre on, acting like a far less fleshed-out version of Castlevania's sub-weapons system. There's nothing here like axes or crosses to give Lucia weapons that feel custom-made for the challenges presented by each level, but they certainly have utility here and there, with a few examples include the Flame Sword which slightly expands her sword attack's reach, the Shield Ball that gives her a very short-lived shield, and the Flash which does damage to everything on-screen (useful for clearing out respawning nuisance enemies, which you'll be seeing plenty of). These cost magic points which are completely refilled at the end of every stage, so you are somewhat encouraged to use them frequently to gain every advantage you can, and in particular the Flame Sword is useful for stunlocking enemies at a safe distance or for hit-and-run tactics against certain bosses. You can even experiment lightly with some of these, leading to elaborate set-ups where you get a boss stuck next to a wall and pelt them with certain spells for a quick kill! They still don't feel as solidly implemented into the game as Castlevania's sub-weapons though, perhaps a result of the stage and enemy composition which we'll be seeing shortly. These spells are the most obvious contribution of the 'RPG' sticker applied to the game, as there's no levelling-up system, and they also play into an emphasis on exploring each stage- you have to find the spells first, of course- but there's other beneficial items like max HP / MP increases and fountains that completely restore your health found in items rooms strewn across each stage. By the end, you will definitely feel Lucia is stronger than when the game started, level-up system or not!
Before we get to the stage designs though, we really need to chat about the enemies. There's a pretty large cast of them with various ways of moving and attacking you, so there's lots of variety, but there's a lot of odd things about their behaviour that will certainly make an impression, if not a good one. For a start, their spawning habits are all over the place- generally you can expect a steady stream of respawning enemies, which is ideal for grinding if you really want to (spoiler: the health boost you can potentially get early on is worth it, so get to it) but sometimes they'll also spawn in walls or inside the doorways of item rooms (defeat them while on the ladder or they might kick you out) and other times they'll just... Disappear. Bosses are a particular problem in this area, as if they're scrolled off-screen it'll be as if you restarted the fight so they get all their health back (a big problem in the double Bunyon rematch in Stage 14). The greatest foe, however, is the purple hell-blobs Nyuru (or Nyulu, I've seen both) that spawn in certain areas and make a beeline for your position, then hover on top of you- until you leave their spawning area, they will not stop, and so your main options are to crouch (they hover above Lucia's head) and use your arcing sword slash to thin out their numbers then make a dash before they regroup, or try and jockey for position until they begin to spawn behind you and outrun them from there (by the time they first appear, you should have enough Boots to outrun them). They definitely earn their reputation as the most annoying enemy in the game, and learning how to deal with them is one of the first walls you must clear to begin getting anywhere here.
The enemy roster expands as you go further in the game in an odd way for a platformer- boss monsters will quickly start appearing as regular enemies (the Hop Egg, the Stage 1 boss, appears this way in Stage 2) and because of the amount of damage they do, they can be a real threat. Generally, small enemies are often nuisances that should be defeated for the (small) chance of potions and so they don't slam you off a platform or into a door, but returning boss monsters are best avoided. Overall, while it's clear the enemy rosters of each stage (as explained on Rinno's site, there are two 'sets' of them the game chooses for each stage, and never the twain shall meet) were chosen to try and compliment the stage design, the haphazard spawning of them makes it feel like there's no real rhyme or reason to their actual placement, and the combat doesn't have a satisfying feel as a result, no careful movement and spacing like in later action games on the system... Except, weirdly, by the time bosses really start to populate the stages, things shift from engaging with nuisance enemies to avoiding combat entirely! Once Lucia has all her Boots upgrades, she's far more capable of outrunning or dodge most enemies, allowing her to zip and soar past them. It gives the game this odd flavour of action, of you having to navigate around very unpredictable enemy spawns (because some enemies will rip your health counter apart, Nyurus do 200 HP damage!) rather than fight your way through them. Perhaps an unintended side-effect of the combat being a little basic, but it is actually kind-of fun, in a strange, limited way.
Moving on to the stages themselves, they start out very simple- walk to the right, go into every room you see to grab essential items, and go beat the boss to get the crystal to open the exit- but Stage 3 is your first cavern area with a less linear approach, with doors that warp you to other areas and multiple routes throughout, and the complexity increases in fits and starts from there with the path from the start to the boss room, then there to the exit, never being a straight line. At least one stage has the exit door right next to the starting point! The caverns of Dragon Buster they are not, they're often more wide-open spaces with multiple paths to take. Some of these designs are a little hostile- even as early as Stage 3, you can get stuck in the lower area with no way to clear the stage if you didn't beat the boss beforehand, Stage 5 lets you get trapped at the bottom of a well if you didn't pick up all the Boots in the previous stages, and the final stage has a real kick in the teeth if you don't have 1000 MP after the final battle, you can't reach the final door and beat the game. They're also easy to get lost in, almost certainly due to hardware limitations- the colour palettes between stages can change, and there's three different kinds of environments (outdoors which are the simplest stages, caverns which are more complex, and castles which have tough enemies and long vertical shafts) but inevitably environment tiles have to be reused within them (hey, Metroid had to do that too, don't say you never got lost in Brinstar) and adding in teleporter doors can make things even more confusing. Honestly, they sold two guidebooks for the game, you're more than free to use maps, although you can sometimes use enemy spawns to tell which area you're in. Mercifully, there's almost no Atlantis no Nazo-esque moon logic puzzles here (the exception probably being what you do with the Wing of Madoola itself right at the end of the game- I can't say for sure if this is in the manual, but you have to press Up and A to use its flight powers to reach Darutos and do battle) but the game is still a challenge if you get lost due to how constant and powerful the enemies are.
Stage 12 is where the game gets truly nasty though, the widow-maker, the Hell Climb. It's a vertical ascent in a cavern with small platforms, including segments where Nyuru will constantly hassle you, and if you're knocked off you're most likely going to land back where you started, and the ground floor is patrolled by a steady stream of Suneisas (snake women who were previously bosses) who'll quickly lop off a large chunk of health if you're not paying attention. Oh, and when you do get to the top, the crystal is guarded by Byforce, a snake beast boss who will absolutely body you if you just stumble into its lair. The last health fountain is two stages back too, so have fun. The final few stages throw in lots of teleporter doors too, to make things as confusing as possible, but the difficulty never gets quite as hellish as Stage 12, especially since all but Stage 14 have fountains you can heal up at. If you can make it past Stage 12 and not swear off the game, you can do it! Getting there is difficult enough, mind, but it arguably peaks there. On the whole, the level design is confusing at times partly because of cart limitations, and it's not helped by the bizarre enemy spawning, but it's serviceable enough, and you are encouraged to explore with the item rooms strewn about, so I found having a map to hand just as a last resort was the ideal way to play. It would've been nice if there were less dead ends (they're bloody everywhere, and some item rooms are even empty!) but this is definitely a step forward from Atlantis no Nazo, a sanding-down of some of that game's more outlandish and nonsense ideas about level construction and progression.
What I will give plenty of credit for is how relatively lenient the game is, even if it can be difficult. This isn't just because you can continue (after dying, hold Select and press Start) but you can also revisit previously-beaten stages, and all your collected gear and maximum HP / MP is retained, although you start with only 1000 HP out of your maximum upon continue. This is a bigger deal than it sounds- it means that if you've missed an important item or something that you think may help, you're free to go back by either dying or doing a soft reset. Collected gear stays collected upon death too, so you're given a lot more leeway than other games from around the same time, although this also means HP and MP-restoring items will be gone too (that's why the health-restoring fountains are so important). The Tower of Druaga did this with its continue system too, but that game had ways of stealing items away from you too as well as tricks to make the game unwinnable without going back a long way or restarting entirely. You also have the choice of playing straight through if you want though, for a real challenge! Another step forward for Sunsoft in this game is in presentation- it's not bad for a 1986 entry, with some nice little details like the sparkling water in the outdoor areas, Lucia's jaunty running animation, and one cavern that has a series of pink-block shafts, but the final one has blocks that have rotted away still vaguely in the shape of the other shafts. Little things, sure, but it's a significant step forward for the company, and they would go on to make some of the best-looking games on the hardware. They just had to start somewhere, you know?
I've perhaps been a little hard on The Wing of Madoola, and it's not entirely unwarranted. This is not a game that endears itself to people easily- it starts out with your character feeling very underpowered and weak, is an action game that kinda asks you to grind (heaven forfend) and throwing in the weird enemy spawns (and the bloody Nyuru) and other odd elements of the game means you're not likely to put this on the list of the Famicom's greatest import-only action games (although it is import-friendly, if you can find a copy that is, as there's basically no Japanese text). Yet, yet, yet... I have a genuine soft spot for this one. Before I played it for the first time I had been warned about its difficulty, and those warnings I do agree with- it can be frustrating, especially if you want to be a maverick and play without a map as a helping hand. At the same time, once you get used to it, it's surprisingly endearing and fun in a strange way for an action game even of this era, with Lucia zipping across the stages like nobody's business and avoiding everything, abusing the limited magic spells with wanton abandon to claw any advantage she can get. There are caveats, there's no doubt about that- grinding at the beginning is highly recommended unless you like the idea of dying over and over again early on, and some players will inevitably get flummoxed and give up, but that's fine. For me though, its failings are such that while I can't completely overlook them, I can put up with them, leaving the game as an interesting if not particularly accomplished side-scroller with some neat ideas.
After The Wing of Madoola, Sunsoft would go on to do a few more arcade ports for the Famicom- Fantasy Zone, Spy Hunter and Xenophobe among others- before moving onto some of their more famous original works on the platform like Batman and, uh, Fester's Quest. Speaking personally, they truly began to shine in the console's final years, specifically with games like Battle Formula / Super Spy Hunter, Hebereke and Gimmick!, but The Wing of Madoola, for being such a huge leap forward from Atlantis no Nazo in so many ways, serves as an important midpoint of sorts, between the kusoge-publishing 'old' Famicom Sunsoft, and the system-pushing 'new' Famicom Sunsoft. That makes it historically an interesting piece, but if what I've shown you piques your curiosity, then load up rinno's pages and have yourself an afternoon of being dunked on by Nyurus and other horrid beasties! You might be surprised!
For being a step forward for lil' ol' Sun Electronics, The Wing of Madoola is awarded..
In a sentence, The Wing of Madoola is... A flawed but fascinating little game.
And now, it's that time, folks!
Ports time, and there's really not a lot to go over here, but go over we must.
Between 2001 and 2002, Sunsoft released a series of six double-packs of their Famicom games for the Playstation under the Memorial ☆ Series banner exclusively in Japan. Amazingly, the official site is still up and says these were sold for 1575 Yen a pop, which is pretty budget price... And it shows. While the prospect of having incredibly cheap versions of Hebereke and Gimmick! is tempting, the port job on these is not held in high regard, with much criticism aimed at the dreadful sound emulation (sometimes missing entire sound channels). This is also the case for The Wing of Madoola, included in Volume 3 alongside Toukaidou Gojuusan Tsugi (what an insult!) where the music seems to be OK but something is very, very wrong with the sound effects- they sound stretched-out, somehow. There's some sparse extras though- a gallery with print ads for both games, and a quiz to prove your powerful Sunsoft knowledge. These packs were made even cheaper when they were rereleased on the Playstation Network for play on PS3, PSP and PS Vita, but those sound problems are really rough, so buyer beware.
There's also some Windows versions, but there's far less info out there for these ones, so we won't linger. First, a 2001 release, Ultra2000 Sunsoft Classic Games Vol. 1 published by Media Kite and viewabale on Amazon over here (there was also a later, cheaper release, pictured above) is a simple set that gathers 3 of Sunsoft's Famicom games- Super Arabian, Atlantis no Nazo and The Wing of Madoola. I haven't been able to find any footage of the version of The Wing of Madoola on here, but Atlantis no Nazo on this set seems to use a completely different audio setup- maybe MIDI of some kind? It seems to play faithfully otherwise. There was also a standalone Windows release at some point in 2004, although I can't find whether this was the same as the one included in this pack. Finally, you can buy an emulation of the Famicom version on Project EGG which was released in 2010, although sadly this is only available on the Japanese side of the site.
The most recent rereleases are for Nintendo consoles, sending Lucia back to her home turf- there was a rerelease for the 3DS Virtual Console service in 2013 but only in Japan (this seems to be just a straight emulation) and, in the future, there's a Sunsoft set upcoming from City Connection / Clarice Games as part of the Rom Cassette Collection series, with no announced platforms but The Wing of Madoola confirmed for inclusion. Will we remember to update this page to include info about this release when it eventually comes out? You'll have to wait and see, won't you?
There's one other unique version of The Wing of Madoola, unreleased and currently undumped, that warrants further discussion- the Vs. System version.
If you're unfamiliar, the Vs. System was an arcade system based on modified NES hardware that offered a cheap alternative to buying new arcade boards- conversion kits for existing Nintendo machines that allowed for interchangeable carts released regularly. Almost all of the carts available were based on NES games but modified to make them fit into the arcade more comfortably- Vs. Super Mario Bros. uses much harder levels, Vs. Castlevania has stricter time limits and enemies that hit harder, and Vs. Duck Hunt includes a bonus stage where you can shoot the dog, years before you could knock seven bells out of him in Smash Bros.! Among the third parties that supported the system were Sunsoft, who released two games for it- Vs. Platoon and Vs. Freedom Force. However, they had seemingly planned at least three other releases, for which prototypes have been found but not yet publicly preserved- Vs. Blaster Master (based on the famous NES game), Vs. Lionex (a game with no equivalent NES release) and to finally get to the point, a new version of The Wing of Madoola!
Usually referred to as as Vs. Madūra no Tsubasa across the internet, the title screen actually calls it The Wings of Madoola, and from the one direct-capture video of the game available on the internet, there's a significant number of changes to adapt it to the arcade format. The main changes are that the health counter now slowly ticks down Gauntlet-style, and you have a limited number of lives per credit rather than just getting a Game Over as soon as you die. The addition of a score counter (and a high-score table to go with it) means the HUD gets moved around a little (your HP and MP are now in the bottom-right corner) and your current weapon / spell is always displayed and with no more pausing, you have to change your selected attack on-the-fly (it seems you need to crouch and press another button to change). There's also a few little embellishments, including a different colour palette for the background of Stage 1 and a new attract mode including a gameplay demo and a text intro in English. Not too unusual- aside from the chick on Stage 8, the game's entirely in English anyway, even the ending- but this, the title change, and the precedent set by Vs. The Goonies (a game released in the West only on the Vs. System, never on NES) leads me to think Sunsoft may have been intending to release this in US arcades as well as Japanese ones. That's only supposition on my part, of course, and no flyer exists for such a release, only a Japanese one, but it's an interesting thought.
In any case, it would appear Vs. The Wings of Madoola was not released, a fate shared with Vs. Blaster Master and Vs. Lionex, although even the uploader of these Sunsoft Vs. System game clips is vague on their release status. Given their apparent scarcity (and in the case of Vs. Lionex, apparent lousiness) it's a fair assumption. Why, though, is something I can't quite figure out, especially since Sunsoft released Vs. Platoon and Vs. Freedom Force later. Perhaps they got cold feet initially then changed their mind later, or maybe they wanted to keep The Wing of Madoola and Blaster Master on home console, or (most likely) these particular games just didn't test very well in arcades. A bit of a mystery, but who knows, maybe we'll get the answer someday.
Here's the full direct-capture video of the game, which is where the screenshots come from.
Next, the mystery of Stage 8's lil' chickadee.
The only Japanese text in the entire game is courtesy of this tiny friend hiding in one of the rooms of Stage 8. When you walk up to it, it'll give you a keyword and a cute face What does it blurt out at you? A keyword for a fabulous prize! As explained by the episode on The Wing of Madoola of Game Center CX / Retro Game Master (yes, it's the dubbed Kotaku version, but it's a serious pain in the ass to link to any other version, and even more unhelpfully, Midnight Pulp / RetroCrush had the license of this dubbed version then privated all the videos from the series a few days before this was set to go up, thanks) this is part of a real-life competition. A pamphlet came with the game that asked players to fill out a postcard with the keyword the chick gives you to be entered in a monthly raffle to win... A Sunsoft music cassette! That cassette is here on VGMDB, containing two arranged songs based on The Wing of Madoola and Dead Zone, and decades later this would be rereleased on a first-print-exclusive extra CD in Clarice Disc's 2011 CD set Rom Cassette Disc In SUNSOFT, part of their long-running series of company soundtrack rereleases.
What did Lucia get up to outside her game? Let's have a very quick look, shall we?
Lucia was used in a few things as a kind of mascot for Sunsoft in the very early days, before Hebereke showed up anyway, but it's pretty difficult to find this stuff. Most of it is archived on this fan site so we've had to use website necromancy to bring it back to life and show you (most of) the images above and below. These first few are related to the SUNCLUB, a newsletter you could sign up for to get info on the latest Sunsoft happenings from 1988 to 1990, but there were also followup versions well into the '90s. So, Lucia would appear on some of this material- above you can see her in a yukata on the cover of SUNCLUB Vol. 1 and on a sign-up sheet for the newsletter. The image in the middle is from this old Ripple Island fanpage showing the official Sunsoft Club Membership Card which has Lucia on it! You can see a much smaller version of it in the manual for Nazoler Land 3 too, in the bottom-right corner. Appearing on the official Sunsoft Club Members Card... Truly, there is no more solid way to declare a mascot.
There's also this cute little cameo- some of the pre-made cards for Barcode Battler II (compatible with Barcode World on the Famicom) have Sunsoft characters on them, including Lucia.
Finally, this is one of my favourites- a jigsaw puzzle with loads of Sunsoft characters, including Lucia, which I believe was drawn by Kenji Mori from the looks of it.
Speaking of... I think before we close up, we have to talk about the character designer on The Wing of Madoola, Kenji Mori.
Also going by the name Moriken, not only did he design Lucia, he drew the game's striking cover art and drew the manga for the game that was published as part of a double-pack with a Ripple Island adaptation, which he also designed characters for, as well as a follow-up manga, マドゥーラの翼外伝 誰がために or The Wing of Madoola Gaiden, which I could only find a cover for on Suruga-Ya, not even a release year or how it was published! It seems the main games he did character design for at Sunsoft were Dead Zone, The Wing of Madoola, Marchen Veil and Ripple Island and worked on manga for all but Dead Zone, but he also worked in other capacities on games like their port of Spy Hunter and Nazoler Land.
On his now-defunct website (which was found by the hero VGDensetsu), he has a page all about his work. At some point he left Sunsoft to join Naxat Soft (you can see his character designs in Coryoon and Burning Angels) and eventually went freelance, making some PC adventure games under the circle name M'sCAFE. This is where it gets fascinating- those games are up on DLSite to buy and most of them are based on the Sunsoft games he designed characters for! With some carefully-placed garbage letters and blurring on the covers, we have Ri○le Island Continuation, De○d Zone + and Ma○oolaEX as well as Marchen Beruru which seems to take a character made for a Sunsoft Fan Club magazine tied to Marchen Veil but doesn't have the blurring of the other games. These are basically unofficial-but-official follow-ups or retellings by Moriken with new art for all of them, so if you have a way of reading and playing them, they may be of interest to hyper Sunsoft fans!
Once again, thanks go out to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell_sharc for their behind-the-scenes support on this one!
Also, be sure to check out rinno's site for all your Japanese Wing of Madoola needs.